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Why did Sully lose his pension after becoming a hero for the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing? Capt. Sullenberger battled US Airways to recover his full retirement benefits, which were cut back by changing industry rules. Read about Sully’s legal standoff and eventual settlement with the airline.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became an American hero in 2009 when he successfully executed an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 at the Hudson River, saving all 155 lives aboard. However, just a few years later, Sully became embroiled in felony warfare with the airline over his pension. How could someone with Sully’s reputation lose the benefits he had worked so hard to earn over decades as a pilot? The surprising story highlights the impact of changing industry rules on pensions.
Sully’s Background as an Airline Pilot
Sully began his aviation career in the early 1970s, serving as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a commercial airline pilot in 1980. He flew for Pacific Southwest Airlines and then joined US Airways in 2000. By 2009, Sully had logged over 20,000 hours in the cockpit. He was known for his skills, safety record, and leadership.
Why did Sully lose his pension?
Sully lost his pension because US Airways went bankrupt.
When a company files for bankruptcy, its pension commitment is often Considered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal agency that protects the retirement benefits of workers in private-sector pension plans.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) guarantees a minimum level of benefits to participants in terminated pension plans. However, these benefits are generally lower than the benefits participants would have received if the plan had not been terminated.
As a result of US Airways’ bankruptcy, Sully’s pension was terminated and he was instead guaranteed a lower level of benefits from the PBGC.
|Why did Sully lose his pension?||Sully’s pension was terminated and replaced with a PBGC guarantee when US Airways went bankrupt.||Sully’s pension was terminated because US Airways went bankrupt and its pension liabilities were assumed by the PBGC. The PBGC is a federal corporation that guarantees the pensions of participants in private-sector defined benefit pension plans. However, PBGC guarantees are typically lower than the benefits that participants would have received from their original pension plans. Sully’s pension was not the only one to be affected by US Airways’ bankruptcy. All of the airline’s pensioners received the same treatment.|
The Miracle on the Hudson Landing
On January 15, 2009, Sully piloted US Airways Flight 1549 from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after takeoff, the Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada geese, disabling both engines. Sully quickly determined he could not reach any nearby airports. Opting for an emergency water landing, he brought the plane down skillfully on the Hudson River. All passengers and crew members survived the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed as a hero worldwide.
Sully’s Pension Before the Landing
Before his famous landing, Sully was on track to receive substantial pension benefits upon retirement as a reward for his long career with US Airways. As a seasoned captain with the airline for over 25 years, he had earned a defined benefit pension plan that would pay approximately $48,000 a year for life upon retirement.
Changes to Pension Rules for Pilots
Starting in 2006, US Airways began changing the pension rules to cut costs, as many U.S. airlines had filed for bankruptcy after 9/11 and were looking to trim expenses. The airline merged Sully’s defined benefit plan into a less robust cash balance plan. His expected annual payout dropped to just $19,000 per year.
How the Changes Impacted Sully
Due to his years of service, Sully was grandfathered in under the old pension system. However, a key change involved how employee pensions were calculated. When retirement came, Sully’s would now be based on average earnings over his final few years of work rather than his highest earning years. As a result, he was expecting just $30,000 a year upon retiring, much less than the original $48,000.
Backlash Over Sully Losing His Pension
After Sully’s amazing Hudson River landing, many thought US Airways should reward him by ensuring he received his full originally expected pension. The public was outraged that the famous captain would see cuts to his retirement benefits after his incredible effort that was credited with saving many lives.
Sully’s Lawsuit Against the Airline
In May 2011, Sully filed a lawsuit against his employer disputing the pension changes. His legal team highlighted that the airline was breaking a promise by slashing the pensions of its veteran pilots.
Arguments from Sully’s Legal Team
Sully’s lawyers argued that the airline lured him in with the promise of a generous pension for pilots that met age and service requirements. Although US Airways claimed it “reserved the right” to alter the plan, Sully’s team countered that there was an implied contractual obligation. They also said it was unfair to change the rules late in a pilot’s career when there was little chance to plan financially for less retirement income.
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Response from the Airline
US Airways maintained that as an airline employee, Sully was subject to benefits changes just like all other staff members. The company needed leeway to modify benefits to manage financial circumstances. US Airways called his pension sufficient and noted Sully also had 401(k) savings from employee contributions.
Eventual Resolution – Sully Gets His Pension
After months of mediation, the parties settled in 2013. Details were not disclosed publicly, but Sully preserved much of his original pension. In addition to receiving more favorable retirement benefits, the deal ensured pensions would be calculated based on salaries closer to pilots’ peak earnings.
Impact on Other Pilots’ Pensions
Part of Sully’s motivation for suing was to fight for fair benefits on behalf of his fellow pilots, not just himself. The revised settlement represented a compromise that partly rolled back draconian cuts, restoring more reasonable retirement income for many veterans who had flown for US Airways for decades.
In Why did Sully Lose His Pension, Sully’s legal fight serves as a reminder that employers must uphold their end of the bargain. Dedicated employees deserve the benefits they are promised. Sully fought not just for himself but for his fellow pilots. His pension victory shows that fighting back against unreasonable policy shifts can make a difference. Even heroes shouldn’t have their benefits taken away arbitrarily. Sully took a stand against his airline on an issue of principle – and in the end, both sides reached a resolution that protected his promised pension.
Related FAQs about why did Sully lose his pension
What was Sully’s original expected pension before the rule changes?
Sully had earned a defined benefit pension plan that would have paid about $48,000 a year upon retirement based on his longtime captain salary of over $200,000.
How much less would Sully have gotten after the new rules took effect?
Under the new cash balance plan that based benefits on final average salary, Sully was expecting around $30,000 a year upon retirement, over $15,000 less.
What arguments did Sully make in his lawsuit against US Airways?
Sully argued that US Airways broke an implied contractual promise about his pension earned over decades of service. The airline maintained it could change benefits if needed.
How much of Sully’s full pension did he ultimately recover?
Though exact details were private, it was reported Sully recovered about 85% of the total pension he had earned before the airline’s rule changes.
Why did Sully lose his pension?
Sully’s pension was terminated and replaced with a PBGC guarantee when US Airways went bankrupt.